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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya talk to "Bittersweet" author Christina C. Jones about creating realistic, Black-ass characters, being prolific as hell and the importance of carving out a space for indie Black writers.
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Today, we're talking to Christina C. Jones, pronouns she and her. Christina's a bestselling romance novelist and digital media creator. A timeless storyteller, she's lauded by readers for her ability to seamlessly weave the complexities of modern life into captivating tales of Black romance. In addition to her full-time writing career, she co-founded Girl, Have You Read, a popular digital platform that amplifies Black romance authors and their stories. Hey, Christina.
Christina: Hi, ladies.
Kenrya: Thanks for joining us.
Christina: I'm very excited to be here. I listened to the interview with Alexandra and when you guys asked me, I was like, "Oh, yes."
Erica: Yay, yay, yay. We like it. We like the team that you guys have. So, again, thank you for joining us. Kenrya read your official bio, your-
Kenrya: Fancy pants.
Erica: ... your fancy pants bio, but tell us what little Christina thought she wanted to do when she grew up.
Christina: Little Christina was very convinced that she wanted to be a teacher, and then big Christina grew up and got a part-time job at a daycare, and she learned very fast that she actually does not like children. Like my own children are fine, you know? Well, I wouldn't [crosstalk 00:01:42].
Erica: Little Christina was poorly informed.
Kenrya: She needed more information.
Christina: Yeah, I wouldn't even necessarily say that I don't like kids. I don't like being required to be around kids. But kids, in general, are fun.
Erica: Are they? Are they?
Christina: They can be! I actually work in children's ministry at my church. And so, like a couple of Sundays a month, I'll watch the kids, like the smaller kids, and I have a good time with them. But it's for an hour at a time, I can send them to they mama.
Christina: So yeah, I was very convinced that I wanted to be a teacher and when I went to college, that was my intention, I was going to major in education. I got kicked out of college the first year because I was playing too much and-
Kenrya: I was about to say, you got to tell us why!
Erica: I'm like, "there's a story behind that!"
Christina: I was playing too much with the grades, and there were money concerns, and just a lot of stuff going on. And they were like, "You don't have to come back." And so ... I did not.
Erica: That's real life!
Christina: And I actually ... in 2014, as a mother of two kids, and like super, super grown, I tried to go back to school and I did very, very well.
Christina: But that stint actually ended in an anxiety attack and I did not go back after that semester, either. So, I have a grand total of three semesters of college education.
Kenrya: And them three semesters can sit right on over there.
Erica: Right? Because you are kicking ass and taking names right now, so ... you know.
Kenrya: And anxiety is not a game.
Erica: Not a fucking game.
Christina: Yeah, it was not. I had to go get on one of those things like you see on TV where they hook all the straps and stuff to your chest and put you on the treadmill ... because they thought I had a heart attack! And so, it was-
Erica: Oh girl!
Christina: It was a lot. It was a lot. But I'm here!
Kenrya: You are!
Erica: But God!
Kenrya: It's interesting because I think people don't really ... You know, people use the word anxiety in a lot of really flippant ways without really understanding what that looks like for those of us, because I have a generalized anxiety disorder, I walk around with that shit all day. And I went through that last year, I was ... It felt like my heart was skipping beats, I had an arrhythmia, and so I had to wear a monitor for a few days and walk around with it always. Like, I had this little lanyard that like hung around my neck and it was all stuck to me to see-
Christina: I had to hook mine on my bra.
Kenrya: ... so we could see when it was happening and what was triggering it, and all of that stuff. That's not a game!
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: It's not a game, I get it, because you worry about how it impacts the rest of your system. So, I'm glad that you did what was best for you and left that shit alone.
Erica: And, as a parent, now that you recognize that, we're able to keep our ... Not keep our kids from going through it, but we're able to better-
Kenrya: Give them tools.
Christina: Give them, yeah.
Erica: ... see those things and give them tools that they need to work through that.
Erica: So, good shit all around.
Kenrya: Yeah. So then that leaves the question then, how did you get from there to here? Like, what's your writer origin story?
Christina: The very first stories that I just really vividly remember, like in terms of something for someone else to read, I had this green three-prong folder that I would write ... I wrote stories down in them on lined notebook paper, and I would share it with my friends and everybody would pass it around. And I'd pass some people in the hall, "Hey, who has it right now?" And I'm like, "I don't know who has it!"
Christina: I got in a little bit of trouble for some of the content because, at a very early age, I had Omar Tyree and Zane pushed into my hands when I was like ... way, way, way super too young for that. And so, I think some of that kind of bled over into what I was doing. But then for a while-
Christina: ... like I said, I thought I wanted to be a teacher and so I left it alone and I started getting into Myspace and just all of that stuff like that. And so, I left it alone for a while and I didn't go back to it for a while because it was kind of like, "Eh, you know, that's not really serious."
Christina: There has always been like kind of this push for me, growing up, you know, do something that, quote unquote, make sense. Like, "Do something that's going to be towards you being able to get a job," and stuff like that. And so, I kind of left it, but then ... got married, went through the college thing, that was before I got married, but then I get married, had kids, all of that.
Christina: And with my pregnancies, and it was actually with both pregnancies, I got really, really sick to the point of almost having to be hospitalized because I could not keep ... I couldn't even keep water down.
Kenrya: You had hyperemesis?
Christina: I did.
Kenrya: So did I.
Kenrya: It's the worst thing I've ever encountered ... worse than labor.
Christina: I would not wish it on anybody.
Kenrya: Nope! Motherfucking devil.
Christina: Yes! And I went through all the Zofran, and I have a whole other story about how the Zofran ... They didn't even know back then that it actually causes birth defects, and so I was lucky enough that that didn't happen with that.
Kenrya: Same! And still worth it!
Kenrya: Honestly, for me.
Christina: Well, it didn't even work for me!
Kenrya: Oh no!
Christina: It did not work for me! I think if it had worked for me, I'd be a little more ... you know, like, "Okay, at least it worked," but it didn't, it didn't work for me. But I needed something to kind of tether me to life, honestly, because there were moments. And my family and stuff would be like, "Don't be dramatic about it." And I'm like, "No, I literally thought I was going to die," no exaggeration, and I needed something to kind of tether me to life and so ... I started writing fanfiction. Oh, I skipped the whole B2K fanfiction section ... in college. Wait a minute!
Erica: Ma'am, we need all of that!
Christina: I skipped the whole section.
Erica: We need all of that.
Christina: I hate that I do not have those files anymore. I think about that so often because I feel like I had some really good stuff. J-Boog was my main person, nobody cared about Raz-B, Fizz was okay but I wasn't really into light-skinned dudes. Boog though? Yes!
Christina: That was ...
Erica: We have a girlfriend that loves B2K, so the moment you find those ... please make it a Turn On exclusive, or something. We got to see it.
Christina: I keep saying I'm going to go back and try to get access to some of my old email addresses because I feel like some of it has to be there, but then I always get distracted, but I'm going to have to see if I can go back to that. But after the B2K fanfiction, there was actually Criminal Minds fanfiction after that, and that was when I was pregnant with my baby.
Christina: And then it was kind of like, "Well, you know, I'm kind of ... " I don't have an issue with fanfiction at all, but it was kind of like, "I'm using someone else's ideas to write something of my own," and so then I was ready. Like, "I'm not doing anything else, I may as well go ahead and work through some of my own ideas." And so that was how I came to ... kind of start writing.
Christina: And I got connected ... I can't remember. I was mommy blogging, and stuff, from my first pregnancy and so I feel like that is how I got in touch with the writers group that I was connected with at that time. It was maybe five or six other Black women who all wanted to write. I got connected with them, and just through being connected to that group, it kind of gave me the energy to actually finish something. And I finished it and then I was like, "Well, I'm a Christian so I need to take all the sex scenes out of it."
Christina: So, I took all the sex scenes out of it and then I was like, "Wait a minute. I didn't feel like convicted or anything about putting the sex scenes in, so why ... Why did I take these out?" So then I put the sex scenes back in ... because I was like, "God will let me know if he has a problem."
Erica: Christians fuck!
Kenrya: I was going to say, that's how we got here.
Christina: "God will let me know if he got a problem," you know what I mean? He's capable of that. And so I put it all back and I wrote it the way that it was intended to be put down. And I didn't really, really think that it was going to become a career for me. Like I said, it was just something that I was doing so that I wouldn't ... lose my mind.
Kenrya: That's all right.
Christina: And by ... Let's see, I had Zoey in October 2012, and I published that project in November 2013. Those first couple of months, I may have had maybe 20 people download the book. I put it up at 99 cents, I may have had 20 people download the book.
Christina: And then, I managed to find other groups of Black indie authors and stuff like that. I managed to find who I needed to be, I guess, kind of advertising to, and my mommy blogging peers would share the book for me, different things like that. Because, for a while, I didn't really say too much about it ... just because I didn't really ... And this actually ... This is probably telling on myself a little bit too much, but this is actually something that I've talked about with my therapist. The fact that I didn't take it seriously, in the first place ... it kind of makes it hard for me to take myself too, too seriously with it even now because it was never ... I never set out, like, "I'm going to be a writer," you know, as a career. That was never the intention.
Christina: I was honestly just doing something and it happened to work out in my favor. But ... yeah, I guess that's my very long-winded-
Erica: [crosstalk 00:11:59].
Christina: [crosstalk 00:11:59] very long-winded origin story.
Kenrya: How many books have you written? That's not long-winded, at all. How many books have you written?
Christina: At this point, 58. My next release will be number 59.
Erica: And they're not shit! Like, some people-
Kenrya: Not only are they not shit, they're great!
Erica: Yeah! Like, some people put out six and they're trash!
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: And you're putting out ... good ass work! I don't want to ... I'm sorry, I'm jumping around, but this is ...
Kenrya: I just want you to understand that writing makes you a writer, no matter where or how you came to it, no matter what brought you there, what you were feeling, how seriously you took yourself then. You are doing it.
Christina: Yeah, yeah. And I have to kind of ... I mean ... It's not necessarily that I downplay it but I do downplay it. I get very embarrassed by compliments, like by direct compliments. Like, if I run across you talking about me on Twitter, like, "Man, CCJ writes dope books!" I'd be, "Hey! Yeah, I do." But like someone saying that to me? I'm like, "Oh, thank you! Please stop."
Erica: Well, prepare to be uncomfortable because we love your writing!
Christina: I'm already [crosstalk 00:13:14].
Kenrya: I'm about to say, "Your books are amazing!" When I started “Bittersweet,” which we're going to talk about later, I couldn't wait to finish it because I was so excited! But then I was sad because I didn't want to be done and leave the characters. We going to say a whole bunch of stuff. Your dialogue is amazing, I think that's the next thing I'm going to say to you.
Erica: Oh my gosh! Yeah.
Kenrya: Like, everything just rings super true.
Erica: I could hear myself saying it.
Erica: I could see a man saying it to me. It's just ...
Kenrya: Because a lot of times that shit is clunky.
Erica: Yeah, it was written like my girlfriend's telling me a story. I can see you. Yeah, you do a great job.
Christina: And the dialogue compliments, that's something that I really hold really, really dear to my heart because that's something that's so important to me. It's something that I have actually been like criticized about before, and even a little ... kind of earlier on.
Christina: There was kind of this idea that in order to be taken seriously, your characters had to talk a certain way. Especially when you're comparing like maybe an indie to traditionally published work, you know, "Well, you're not supposed to ... uphold any stereotypes," and, "If they're educated, they should talk like this," and just a whole lot of-
Kenrya: Oh God! Respectability?
Christina: Yeah, basically a whole lot of that. And I was like, "Eh ... I'm grown, I'm going to do what I want to do-
Christina: ... when it comes to the characters." And so when people compliment me on that, about just the relatability, and stuff, of the dialogue and how it feels real, it's because it is real to me. These are conversations that I would absolutely have with my friends.
Christina: This is how I talk to my friends in real life, and the people who I only know through the internet, whatever, this is ... It's just what I see! It's just what comes natural to me, and I feel like that has to have a place in our literature, instead of trying to, quote unquote, clean it up to be palatable for the masses or palatable for mainstream sensibilities. It can't be about that.
Christina: If I'm going to say that my work is for Black women, then I have to meet that and I have to ... I can't figure out how to phrase what I'm trying to say.
Kenrya: You have to do exactly what you're doing. I mean, honestly, from the first page of this book, I was like, "Oh, this is for me!"
Erica: I felt like you were writing ... Your writing made me feel like, "Oh, Christina is a homie. We're going to get together for drinks."
Erica: It felt very familiar in a very good way, not like a patronizing like ...
Erica: We can tell this is how you talk. This is how yours characters-
Kenrya: It's how you ... people over there talk, "Let's do this now." No, it was very much like, "This is us." I was going to ask what's your secret. Is it like, do you hear the words in your head? How does it come to you?
Christina: It comes to me kind of, and I hope this doesn't sound too ...
Erica: Girl, just say it.
Christina: But it comes to me in scenes, in my head. Like, I will hear certain snippets of dialogue. And sometimes, when I'm lucky, it happens while I'm actively at the computer. Other times, I think, "Oh, I don't have to write that down right now. I'll remember it," and then I definitely do not.
Kenrya: It's gone. Yeah.
Christina: But yeah, I'll sit and I'll stop and just think and just kind of let ... I'll go back and reread what I've already written, just like a couple of paragraphs or something of what I've already written, just so that I'm kind of in that moment with the characters to let it play through and let it play out, in a way that a natural conversation would.
Christina: I write in first-person. Pretty much, out of 58 books, 55 of those are in first-person. I only have three books that are in third-person. And so, I think that when you're in the character's head, sometimes that can ... You tend to kind of over-explain, because you're in that character's head, and so there's things that you're trying to, I guess, mimic someone's normal thought process. But our thought processes travel so fast that sometimes it can feel a little .... overdone, or it can feel clunky to do all of the explaining about the feeling, and all of that.
Christina: And so, that part is a lot more difficult for me than the dialogue part. Because the dialogue part, I can hear that. It's the ... Or the outward dialogue. It's the inner dialogue that I have ... I don't even want to say I have trouble with it, I just have to make sure to temper myself, because I'll get in mode where I want to ... "Well, let me make sure the reader knows exactly what I'm trying to say right here." And it's like, "No, you don't need to do that. Leave it up to them to feel how they feel about it. You know, they may not even agree with the main character or whatever, just leave it up. Just tell it the way that it's coming to you and let everything else ... go."
Erica: So what pushes you to write?
Christina: Trying to not have to ... contact my therapist for emergency sessions. It's funny but I promise I'm really not trying to be funny, but there's always new characters popping up in my head, especially when I'm actively ... like when I commit to somebody, and I feel like that's kind of like real life. Like, "I'm committed to somebody and now here you come? Where were you when I didn't have anything going on?" Like, get some [inaudible 00:19:06]."
Christina: But yeah, just wanting to get the stories out on ... You know, wanting to get the stories out onto the page. And then, also, just a commitment to my readers, because I have people who, after I write, I'll say ... For example, Brittany from “Bittersweet,” she was mentioned in “Bittersweet.” She is the neighbor, she's the one who owns the bike shop, and she has a skin disorder.
Christina: And I had a reader reach out to me, after she read that, she has that same skin disorder, and she ... I hate to use the word grateful because it's not like I want to be thanked for it, I just want people to feel seen. I just want Black women to feel seen in a lot of different facets, even when we're a little chunky, even when we don't have it all together, or we're dealing with mental health issues, or physical health issues, whatever. I just want to do my part, as much as I can, because I don't ... I feel like now, there is a lot. There are a lot more options, a lot more places for people to go for Black romance.
Christina: We've seen an influx of more and more people picking up the pen and deciding that they're going to publish. But, at the time that I started, there weren't a lot of us. You had your Jerome Dickey and he was still putting out books. Terry McMillan, I don't think she had put out anything for a while, at that time, but she's still writing. But her books aren't-
Kenrya: She took a long break.
Christina: Yeah. And even now, her books ... it's a year or so between, and that's traditional publishing. That's kind of standard. And so, it's kind of like, once you've read all of that, where do you go? Like, if it's not available to you? And traditional publishing, a lot of what was available in Black romance there ... Don't get me wrong, it was fine. I devoured a lot of it. But I did not feel ... I didn't really feel seen.
Christina: I didn't really feel seen there and I felt like if I don't, there's probably a lot of women like me who don't feel that as well. And so, I just want to do my part to contribute to that. Because I remember being that little girl who was too young to be reading that stuff. And once I had read all of it, what was left? What's next?
Christina: And so, I just do my part to contribute to the over-saturation, I guess.
Erica: Yeah, well, I don't think it's oversaturated because you found your tribe and we follow you and we love it. You've written several series, and I think you kind of touched on this, where you want to keep going with some of your characters, but what draws you to creating a series as opposed to just standalone titles?
Christina: So, pretty much every ... I'm going to say every, but the only series that wherever ... When I first started writing the first book, I knew it was going to be a series. The Wright Brothers was the first one of those. And then, from there I had the Love Sisters, and then the Clarke Brothers. But anything before that, other than the Romantic Suspense series, which is the only thing that I was saying is in third-person, I would write a book that I intended to be a standalone. I never had any intention of revisiting anybody, or talking about anybody's cousin, or best friend, or whatever. It just kind of happened like that.
Christina: These characters, they present themselves in another couples' book and then it's kind of like, "Well ... now they won't leave me alone," and I have to kind of keep going with it. Most notably, or I guess one of my more popular series is the Serendipitous Love series. I've never intended to write a six-book series. That was never ever in my plans for that.
Christina: But it's like as I wrote each book, new characters kind of introduced themselves, and it wasn't necessarily always that ... it was somebody's friend or something like that, but more like ... they would introduce themselves as the couple and the setting ... Their story just lent itself to that same setting, and so I was like, "Okay. Well, we'll wrap this into the same series. And now that we wrap this into the same series, what connections would they have with the people who are already established?" Like, would they go to ... There's a flower shop that's introduced in Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Urban Grind, which is ... That freaking coffee shop is in pretty much everything that I do now! But it's like, "Okay. If they're sending a gift, they're going to go to Posh Petals for that. If they want to stop for coffee before work, they're probably going to go to Urban Grind for that.
Christina: And then from there, just by visiting those places, the people that they would see on a regular basis and the connections that they would forge with those people, and then just kind of on and on from there. And that kind of lends itself to creating series but I'm ...
Kenrya: You created a whole community!
Erica: I know-
Christina: I did.
Erica: ... I just saw like a community-
Erica: ... being built around.
Christina: I want to get an illustrator, one day, to draw it for me. But I have to remember where everything is because ...
Erica: Because your readers will remind you, "No! Uh-uh (negative)."
Erica: "Posh Petals is not there."
Christina: Right. Like in later books, I kind of was a little more vague about where exactly in the neighborhood things were so that I wouldn't have to, like, "Wait a minute, how she already over here?" And "I thought that was two blocks away." I kind of got a little wiser about it later on, but I feel like that would be a really cool project and I want something like that to go on my wall, or something like that, to just really kind of ... I guess, commemorate it.
Christina: Because it's another one of those things that never was really just ... intended to be, it just kind of happened, and I've accidented my way into ... a whole thing!
Erica: A whole career.
Kenrya: No such thing as an accident, that ain't nothing but God.
Christina: Hey, I'll take it. I will absolutely.
Kenrya: Word. So, speaking of compliments, another thing that we love are your covers.
Kenrya: What are your ingredients for a successful cover? How do you know that it's there, that it made the final cut? That it qualifies to be one of your covers?
Christina: So, the crazy thing is by this time I ... I'll create a cover and then by the time I actually show it to the public, my friends will have to be, "Girl, if you don't stop freaking playing and post that cover," because I actually rarely ... I don't want to say I don't like them anymore, because they'll still be perfectly fine as covers. But, usually by the time I post the cover, I've started writing more and more in the story and I might feel like, "Eh, I kind of want to change this," or, "I want to change that," or just different little things, or I've picked it apart. I'm never satisfied.
Kenrya: So you design them all yourself?
Christina: Yes, yes. That's what I was doing when I discovered ... when I was like really, really settled into and said, "No, this teacher thing isn't going to happen." I was a graphic designer for a long time.
Christina: And I kind of developed those skills with building people's WordPress sites, and stuff like that. And now I'm able to use that to make the covers for myself, and make the covers and promos and different things for myself. But it's really just finding the perfect cover image which is really, really difficult.
Christina: That's a really, really difficult thing, because you're depending a lot on stock photo sites, that don't really have-
Kenrya: And that's hard for Black people.
Christina: Yeah. And not only is it hard to find those images but it's like you're kind of, quote unquote, competing against the whole community so that you're not using the same image that someone else already used. Or, if you are going to use that same image, transforming it into something different.
Christina: What I really very much prefer is custom shoots, but that's not always necessarily feasible. And not even from a budget standpoint. It's not cheap, but that's not the biggest barrier to me. The biggest barrier is actually finding models and stuff that fit what the characters look like, are in the same location as your photographer, and it's just a lot, or can can actually do it at the same schedule, coordinating and all of that.
Christina: Those are the more difficult parts of it, but I really love being able to do custom shoots. Like for Deuces Wild, which is book two in my High Stakes series, I was able to get a custom shoot for that one.
Christina: All my custom shoots have been done by the same photographer, but that one, Portia from Brown Stock ... I don't know if she's actively doing it right now, but I believe that she is trying to revamp it, but she actually started a stock site for other Black couples, and stuff like that. But she really put her foot in that “Deuces Wild” shoot! Like, "I want to go post some of the images from it right now," just when I think about it.
Christina: But I really do like being able to have just a perfect image that just really speaks to who the characters are or some certain theme from the book, and really being able to just kind of sit for hours and play with colors and textures and fonts, and all of that, to kind of create something that I feel like really puts forth ... that really well represents what's inside that cover.
Kenrya: Is “Deuces Wild” your favorite of your covers?
Christina: It's not my favorite of my covers. It's not my favorite of my covers, just because ... what happens to me is ... For the first book in a series, you create a certain style that all the other covers have to adhere to. And so, I had already created a certain style with an image that was not a stock image, and so I had to do a lot of textures and stuff to really even make that image work.
Christina: But, when it came to my cover Deuces, I had to kind of replicate that style and everything, which was like, "I don't want! I feel like I'm wasting ... " not necessarily wasting, "these good images."
Christina: But if Deuces had been first and I'd had that custom shoot first, those covers would probably look a little different. My favorite ...
Erica: That was my next question.
Christina: I would have to maybe pick one from each year, or something like that. Like, that's ... [inaudible 00:30:50].
Erica: It's like choosing a kid!
Christina: Yeah, because it's ... When I think of my covers and I think of the one that makes me want to smile the most, it would probably be the Love Sisters covers, just because they're so bright and colorful, and it's just got all these gorgeous Black people on the covers. And I was able to find multiple images of all of those people, and so it was just a really good design experience ... for the series. And so, that probably factors into it some.
Erica: Okay. Well, last week we read an excerpt from Bittersweet, and Anika and Royal are our faves now. But this is our first real dive into the trope of "enemies as lovers" and so ... Which is weird because that trope comes up a lot. But my question to you is, have you ever switched it up with a nemesis?
Christina: I have not, I have not. This is so funny because I was just thinking the other day, when I was in high school, I worked at a grocery store and there was this boy, and I'm not going to say his name, but honey drove me nuts! He drove me nuts! But I was very attracted to him ... but he drove me nuts!
Kenrya: Of course you were!
Christina: And so I was like, "I wonder now if that's why I write "enemies to lovers" so often, because I don't even like that trope. As a reader, I don't really like the trope. And when I think about it, I'm like, "That's dumb!"
Christina: Like, "How do you want to sleep with somebody that you hate? That don't work!" But ... it's the truth! And I end up writing it so much even though I don't ... On the surface, I would say that I don't like the trope, but I end up writing it so much. But that is hilarious because I was literally ... I can't even remember what I was doing that made me think about that, but I was ... It was like my first job, so I had to be like 16 years old ... or something like that!
Christina: But yeah, he ... That's the closest I've come to that. And nothing ever actually ended up happening, but that's the closest I've come to something like that.
Erica: Well, it's obvious that you and ... 16-year-old Christina and ... Jerome Carter, we're going to give him a name, was not getting on in the stock room at the grocery store. But ... what's your stance on getting it on at the workplace?
Christina: I am not completely against it. I feel like as long as nobody's going to end up hurt while you're neglecting your responsibilities to get some D or .... some P, or whatever. Whatever you're into! As long as ... a rock isn't going to fall off a cliff and hit somebody because you're not paying attention, I say, "Hey, go for it as long ..." If it's between consenting adults, that y'all are being safe, and all that good stuff ...
Christina: Now, in real life, I don't know. But ... in books, I'm into it in books.
Kenrya: So one thing that I really identify with was Anika's perfectionism. Like ... when he posted that picture of himself.
Erica: And you explained her thinking like, "Oh my goodness, I had a plan for the Instagram feed! This is supposed to look like this!" I started spiraling for her.
Kenrya: See, don't like it.
Christina: It made me so mad even writing it. I was like, "Oh my god, I would ... "
Erica: And then the fact that everyone loved it, so you're like, "Now I got to figure out how to deal with it!"
Christina: Yes, that just makes it ever worse! "Because I can't take it down now."
Kenrya: And he's so smug! Yeah, that really pissed me off.
Kenrya: I really relate to her being a perfectionist and it's something I've been trying to work on myself about. But it made me think and wonder, which of your characters do you most identify with?
Christina: I actually don't know. Huh. I feel like that should be an easy question to answer, but-
Kenrya: Not when you've written 59 books!
Erica: Yeah, I was going to say, not after 58 books.
Christina: Yeah, it's ... I don't know, I don't know. And I feel so bad for not being able to answer it, but I'm thinking ... No, no, no. I can say this ... Keris from Equivalent Exchange. She is a character who ... Well, I guess I can say this because the book is out, but her initial connection to Laken and her being a graphic designer, and all of that, initially, that was going to be like a "second chance" story, where they had gotten together in college but she was, quote unquote, the other woman, but not on purpose.
Christina: He was an upperclassman, she was a freshman, and there was just a lot of that dynamic there that kind of ... was drawn from real life.
Kenrya: You're like, "How do I say this without saying too much?"
Christina: Yeah! And so, from that standpoint, I would say that ... Not necessarily that I relate to her. I mean, I guess I wouldn't say that, but she is the character that I would say I drew the most of my real life from.
Erica: Word. So, you have been writing a lot of holiday themed titles. Also, side note, “Merry Dickmas”? I cackled when I read ... I shouted. It was like the middle of night, I was like, "Oh! Mama got jokes." Anyway, what's your favorite holiday?
Christina: My favorite holiday. What is my favorite holiday? I feel like when I was growing up, it used it was Christmas. I just liked the lights and the decorations, and all of that, and it was something that I really wanted to kind of replicate for my kids, but ... I don't know, it's just ... I need to ask my mom if they felt like that as adults too, just kind of recreating that magic for the kids, but I feel like ... like for real, for real, my favorite ... I would probably say Thanksgiving is probably my favorite.
Christina: And it's not even really about the holiday itself, it's more about the food. I'm really big into cooking, I like cooking for people. I like baking for people, and stuff like that. And so, pretty much always for Thanksgiving, I get an opportunity to do that. I actually didn't this past year.
Christina: No, that's not true! That's not true. My family went on a trip the week before Thanksgiving and we got back that Wednesday. And everybody thought I was crazy because, when we got back, even though it was like 12 hours worth of flights and stuff like that, I went to the grocery store and I went and got a ham. I went and got the stuff to make my Thanksgiving meal.
Christina: But I really, really like that and I want to start creating just that kind of family vibe with cousins, and stuff, that I didn't really have growing up. Because most of my family lives in Chicago, but when were like ... I was born, but I was really, really small, my immediate family moved to Arkansas. We moved far away and so we didn't ... I have cousins, and stuff, but I don't really have any type of connection or anything to them, and I really want to change that for my kids. And I feel like Thanksgiving is kind of the holiday for that.
Christina: The weather is usually ... You don't really have to worry too much about the weather, about it, you know ... Is ice all over the place so you can't travel, or anything like that like, that's just what Thanksgiving kind of feels like the holiday to mold that out for me.
Kenrya: Word. As you mentioned earlier, we talked to your homegirl Alexandra Warren last season, and she is your co-creator for Girl, Have You Read.
Erica: Girl, have you read? Sorry, I got to say that every time.
Kenrya: So can you tell our listeners a bit about your mission with that project?
Christina: Okay. At the time that I started writing, like I mentioned earlier, it felt like there were not a lot of romance authors, Black romance authors, who were writing about relationships between Black people. And having the space-
Kenrya: Oh, wait! That's the key part ... that you snuck in there. I heard that ... real loud.
Christina: Yes. But I found us! I was able to find us. But, on that same token, there weren't a lot of ... There was a lot of blogs, and stuff, promoting romance, and all of that stuff. But a lot of the blogs, even the ones who kind of had a focus on heroines of color, what I ended up seeing, just a whole lot of, was ... like, "Yes, it's a Black heroine but it's a white man on the cover."
Christina: And that's not what I wrote. That's not what I wrote and that's not what a lot of my peers wrote, either. And I knew that there were readers who wanted that, who wanted to read about Black people together with each other. It was what I wanted to read too, it was what I wrote, and all of that.
Christina: And so, I was talking to Alex about this, and she already had a website. She had Bookworm Lodge, that she was already doing at the time. And through the process of talking to her about it, we were like, "All right, let's just do it."
Christina: And so, I built the website ... with that graphic design experience.
Erica: What don't you do?
Christina: I built the website and we've had some growing pains. We've had some growing pains. A lot of the people who really supported the idea when it was initially presented, once they realized that we were serious about that "between Black people" thing, we actually kind of lost a lot of support. And so, in the beginning, it was kind of a tough road to climb. But we're committed to it, and we've grown.
Christina: We've done three events, this year was supposed to be year four but, because of the Rona, we weren't able to do-
Kenrya: Fucking Rona.
Christina: Yeah, yeah. But we get together and we have a good time, it's roomful of Black authors who support the mission and whose catalogs reflect the same thing. Not that everything that they write is necessarily Black romance, but we do only ask authors who ... "I'm going to find some Black people in your catalog!" You now, those are the artists that we invite, people who really seem to kind of get and understand the mission.
Christina: And it's a roomful of Black women, and sometimes Black men ... and sometimes white women! We've had other races some along too because they were interested in the mission or they supported the mission, whatever. But it's a really, really good time. It's a really, really good time. It's work!
Christina: It's definitely work as well, but it's a mission that we're really committed to. We've taken some lumps about it. Just generally speaking, we've taken some lumps about it, but we stay focused on that mission because we both feel like it's really important to ... It's okay for us to have a focus and it's okay for us to stick to that focus.
Christina: And it's not about excluding anybody, it's about specificity. And I feel like there's beauty in that.
Kenrya: That was super moving. Erica and I have struggled, sometimes, when looking for books. We don't use books that have white men on the covers. We've never covered one and we won't.
Erica: If you're an author that feels like you have to include white people on your cover to sell books ...
Kenrya: This ain't the show for you.
Erica: No matter how great the story is, I'm sorry, this ain't the show for you, because ...
Kenrya: And that's why there is some pretty ... There are some romance and erotica writers who are really big but whose books we ... They just don't work for us for that reason.
Erica: Yeah, they're just not our cup of tea.
Kenrya: Yeah. So I appreciate y'all for having a niche and-
Erica: Having a space for us.
Christina: And that's really what it's about. I remember having people say, "Well, you get mad when white folks exclude y'all." Who get mad? Because ... I don't read [crosstalk 00:44:32].
Erica: I don't want to be in a place I don't want be invited to.
Christina: I want to read about Black people, so I don't care if a white woman wants to read about white people. Sis, me too! I want to read about my own too!
Christina: So I don't ... It doesn't-
Kenrya: And I don't want white people writing about Black people.
Christina: Oh god, don't get me started!
Erica: You can tell, the moment you start, that it's white people writing about Black people. The moment you start.
Erica: Well, we know a thing or two about running some shit with one of your friends. What's it like-
Kenrya: Hey, boo!
Erica: Hey, girl! It's like [inaudible 00:45:15] your child. What's it like for you? How do y'all separate the friendship from the business? Or do you?
Christina: I don't think we do. I don't think we do. But I think that we complement each other really, really well. Alex is a very laidback personality, and I always think about how ... like at those very last minutes, like before the events, this is when it's highlighted the most to me, when I'm like freaking out and I'm like, "Go, do this! Go, do that!" talking to our volunteers. Not in an unkind way at all, because that's paramount to me!
Christina: But, in my head, I'm screaming, but outwardly I'm like, "Can you please go ... and do this." But it's like I'm freaking out and Alex is calm. And it's not that she's not engaged, because she's engaged, she understands the need to get it done and let's get it moving. But she has ... like her energy is different.
Christina: It was like, "Okay, it's cool. It's going to happen. We're going to get it done. And if this little part over here don't get done, it's going to be okay. We're going to have a good time anyway." And she is a lot more organized than I am when it comes to content type stuff, and so she's the one who actually ... Like when people put in requests to do spotlight posts, and stuff like that, she's the one who does all of that. While I might be the one scheduling social media and making sure the website is up and running, and deciding on a whim to completely redesign the website and make a new logo ... and all of that.
Christina: And that's kind of-
Kenrya: [crosstalk 00:46:49].
Christina: Yeah, that's kind of the stuff that I do. And then, when we do have the events, I think because I ... That's just my personality to like have little cutesy this and that, and plan parties and stuff. I haven't done it in a minute.
Christina: Oh no, that's not true! My baby had a birthday party in October. But I thrive on stuff like that. And so, I can take over when it comes to stuff like that, where I don't think that that part is necessarily what she really wants to be doing. And so, I think that we kind of complement each other really well.
Christina: And any arguments and stuff that we've had, it's never been about the business stuff. It's always like ... Honestly, I can't even think of an example. But yeah, I feel like we work really, really well together and I think that it's because we have ... I don't think that I'm necessarily a high-strung personality but I do think that Alex is definitely more laid back than I am. And so, I feel like we kind of balance each other really, really well.
Kenrya: And y'all play to your strengths, it sounds like.
Christina: Yes, yes.
Erica: Yeah, we found that ... I've found that it works when we find our lanes and stay in our lanes. And I think part of the ... Because I have such a close relationship with Kenrya, I am totally and utterly comfortable. If she say she doing something? Night-night, nigga. I ain't thinking about it ... until she show ... Just because ... [crosstalk 00:48:25].
Kenrya: Yeah. We trust each other to do what we say we going to do.
Kenrya: And when you have a partner who you trust implicitly, shit just goes.
Erica: And when your partner knows you. Because, like you said, I could be running in circles and Kenrya is like, "Hey, boo. Look at me-
Christina: Yes, "Just relax."
Erica: ... look at me!"
Kenrya: Yes, that's true. My next question ... eh, it could be a big one, but it's what does success look like for you?
Christina: Oh, another thing that my therapist ... [inaudible 00:49:01] about a lot.
Kenrya: Same, girl.
Erica: Shout out to a good therapist!
Kenrya: Listen, we talk about therapy on this show constantly. Like, if there was The Turn On bingo, that'd be like the fucking center square. That and like “pussy” and “nigga.”
Erica: Bam, bingo cards. Thinking about that, right now.
Christina: But no, I feel like it's just ... Because as I mentioned earlier, it wasn't something that I necessarily set out to do, to have this career and stuff like that, figuring out what success looks like has been really a struggle for me. And I honestly don't even fully have the answer to that question, because I'm never ... Like going back to the cover thing, when I was saying that I'm never really satisfied with the cover, I feel like that kind of applies to like career stuff, too.
Christina: When you put out a book, you want to get, quote unquote, the ribbon in Black romance. It's like, "Okay, I got the ribbon and I'm excited that I got it, but eh ... I should have done better." That's just kind of always in the back of my mind, like what I should have done better, "That's not anything to be impressed by, do better. Do better, do better, do better."
Christina: It's like this is always in the back of my mind, but I don't even know what better looks like to me. And so, it's pretty maddening. But ... I don't know, I just ... What I want to see, and this is not even necessarily for me, but what I want to see is indies get the same kind of ticker tape parade treatment that others get.
Christina: This may be controversial, but I feel like indies have really, really done a bulk of the work of rebuilding the Black romance as a genre, even though there are people who would say, "Well, that's not actually a genre." I beg to differ and kiss my ass.
Christina: I'm sorry, that's a sore spot for me. But-
Erica: Us too!
Christina: But I just really want to see ... I don't want to see an interracial romance, or an interracial romance author, get crowned queen of Black romance. And that's not to take away from that success, or whatever. Like, "I'm excited for you, I'm glad that you got your bestseller status, or whatever it was." That's not knocking them, it's knocking the community or ... the society that says that that's what the book has to be in order for us to give this certain accolade.
Christina: Or because it's not trad pub, or, "Maybe she just couldn't make it in trad pub ... " Ain't nobody trying to do shit in trad pub! Like, my grass is very green over here!
Christina: But, at the same time, it's frustrating to have myself, yes, and my peers, putting in so much work and really writing, just putting in really, really excellent work and writing the books that should be getting put on those lists, and should be getting those accolades. And see us get ignored instead.
Christina: And what kind of frustrates me more than anything is the lack of support from Black traditionally published authors. Y'all see us! Y'all see us! And you work in the publishing industry, you have a contract with the publishing industry, you know what it's like. I've seen y'all have these complaints and you talk about how racist it is, whatever.
Christina: And so, I would think that you would embrace the people who are trying to subvert that, the people who said, "No, you know what? No, I'm not going to take that. I'm going to do it on my own. I'm going to get it on my own."
Christina: You would think that the successes that we've had would be celebrated, but instead it's just steadily looked down on and ... it's just frustrating! It's really, really frustrating. I've actually tweet ranted about this recently.
Christina: But I don't lack anything that I need. My Black women readers have been like ... I really can't even talk about how ... I really can't even put into words how awesome they've been in supporting me, supporting my work, checking out, giving other indies a chance. Because, when we first started, me, Love Belvin, I'll say Nia Forrester ... I'm trying to think of who else ... Te Russ, who kind of ... We all kind of published around the same time and it was hard to get people to buy into it.
Christina: It was hard to get people to pick us up and hard to get people to take us seriously. But we had those dedicated readers who did and who put us in their friends' hands and said, "Hey, you should really read this. You should really check it out." And then those friends told those friends and those friends told those friends, and now here we are.
Christina: And so, it's not that I lack for anything and it's not that I'm bitter. I'm exhausted! And I'm like, "Damn, y'all! We can't get no love?"
Kenrya: So I have a follow-up, what would that support ideally look like ... from folks who are doing trad pub?
Christina: It looks like, you know, when these lists are made from the more mainstream outlets, Book Riot and whoever else, when those people reach out to you for their articles about the state of romance and this and that, say, "Hey, yeah, I can give you a quote for your article but reach out to Alexandra Warren too, reach out to Nicole Falls too," because we're here and we're making strides, and we're bringing people back to this genre, and our voices should be represented there too.
Christina: It's not just about retweets and it's definitely not about y'all buying the work because ... I don't care about other authors ... reading my work! I want readers to read my work. It's not about that, it's about treating us like we're part of a community instead of like we're not good enough to be mentioned in the same article with you.
Erica: Christina, what are you reading now?
Christina: I am not reading anything right now. I have a really hard time reading while I'm actively writing. And then, the fact that I'm not ... Honestly, not actively writing. First, it was coronavirus and then it was the protests, and all of that. It's just a lot going on, and so I really haven't been actively writing. But I can tell you the last thing I read.
Christina: That's actually not true. My friend ... I have a friend who is starting to publish, Leila Hart, and she's my friend in real life, "our kids play together" type of friend. And so, that was the last thing that I read. She wanted me to read and give her some feedback on that. And then, before that, I read Alex Warren, “Oops!”
Christina: I read Nicole Falls, “Release Some Tension.”
Kenrya: I haven't read it yet, the cover is so cute!
Christina: Thank you! I designed that cover.
Kenrya: I knew it! Okay. Listen, I was like, "Whoever designs her covers had to have done this cover." Because you got a signature style. That's crazy.
Christina: I do, I do. I'm trying to let go of it. I can't. I can't.
Erica: No! For what? It was good!
Christina: So that it all doesn't end looking exactly the same.
Kenrya: They don't all look the same!
Erica: They don't look alike, but they have a feel!
Kenrya: It's just a signature, exactly.
Christina: Yeah. I had to read that, and then ... Like I said, Nicole Falls' “Release Some Tension,” which I typically tend to stick to certain faves. Because, early in my career, I had a weirdo bitch peer accuse me of copying. And so, I just kind of got it in my head, "You know what? If I ain't read it, you can't accuse me of copying shit. I didn't even read it."
Christina: And so, seven years later, six or seven years later, I understand that that's not healthy. That's not really the way to go. But I still have a hard time letting go of it. I still have a really hard time letting go of it. I have picked up certain people like Honesty Price. She's been writing for ... maybe a year? But she recently released a short called “Sloth” that was phenomenal!
Christina: I think it's available on Amazon. It might only be available like as a free read on her website, but I feel like she made it available on Amazon. But that was phenomenal! D. Rose, what did I read from ... I'm trying to remember the name of it. I want to say it was called Brown Sugar.
Christina: Where you at? I can't find it, it's not coming up on my Kindle but I recently read some D. Rose. I do try to branch out so that ... Because I co-run a whole website about this, I want to see what other people are doing and those are just two that are really phenomenal. I can add a third, Bria Felicien.
Christina: These are all young writers, and I don't mean young necessarily in age, just in that they haven't been writing for a really long time. But I really see the most potential with these ladies. So, if you're looking to check some new people out, I can definitely, very highly, recommend them. But I'm trying to kind of push myself out of my box of only reading people who I know love me and they know that I'm not copying them. Because they hear me in voice memos, and wherever else, they literally hear every detail of whatever I'm writing.
Christina: And so, they already know where all these little details are coming from. But it's a handicap and I would prefer to not ... It's a handicap I would prefer to not have. It's something I'm working on.
Erica: Alrighty. Well, we will make sure we include links to the books and authors you mentioned in the show notes-
Erica: ... so that we can share with our listeners. Okay! So, as we wind it down, I have a question for you inspired by your book.
Erica: The book that we've read when I say your book, the book that we read last week. Would you rather have to work on a project with your archenemy, that's like a month-long project with your archenemy, or have one night of sex with them ... assuming you're not married. You know, like the not-married Christina.
Christina: I think either way, I would rather work on the project.
Christina: Personally. Because I'm thinking like, if they're my archenemy, we're going to do that and then they're always going to be able to hold that over my head. Even if...
Kenrya: You count on your nemesis being petty!
Christina: ... saying anything to anybody. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe they wouldn't say anything to anybody about it but they would know and I would know, and ... like eh!
Kenrya: Yeah, I'm with you. Mm-mm (negative). "No, thank you. I don't want you to have that."
Christina: Right. I'll suffer through the projects.
Erica: That's real.
Kenrya: So what's next for you?
Christina: In terms of my next release, what I am actively working on is a former assassin, a female former assassin, who is retired ... basically. We'll call her retired. And the book is not a thriller or anything like that, the book is straight up contemporary romance, but it's her kind of re-acclimating and figuring out how to live a life that's her own and having her first real relationship. Because she's acted as a spy and all these other things, and so she has kind of experienced life from that standpoint, but it's never been anything that was real.
Christina: And so she's experiencing this for the first time and kind of finding new hobbies, and all of that. And I feel like it doesn't sound that exciting when I say it. Honestly, it's not that exciting. It's a pretty quiet book.
Kenrya: No, it does! And we don't you to spoil it.
Christina: Yeah, I'm trying to be real careful. I'm trying to be real careful with what I say. But it's been interesting to write, it's been interesting, I've enjoyed it a lot. I'm kind of at my, quote unquote, Black moment. I don't really do that type of outline it or anything when I write. But the couple, they broke up and they have to get back together, and they have to do all of that stuff. And that's the part that I'm at right now.
Christina: So yeah, it's been exciting and it's something that I don't feel like I've seen before. And I could be wrong, because I told y'all earlier I don't be reading.
Kenrya: No, I've never seen a Black assassin spy woman before, so that's exciting to me.
Christina: Her organization was actually introduced in “Deuces.”
Kenrya: Oh, look at that!
Christina: So it's a little bit of a spin-off ... that will probably be a series. It will probably be a series. And I'm excited. I'm excited for what this could bring. Because all of the books, if it does become a series, all of the books will be very different.
Christina: This one is not a thriller, but one of the other ones, that I'm kind of conceptualizing, that one might be a thriller. And so, it's exciting to think about. But I have to actually execute before I can do any of that other stuff.
Kenrya: You got this.
Erica: Yes, you do.
Kenrya: So, our final question is where can people find you?
Christina: I am all over the place @BeingMrsJones, which is a holdover from when I was a mommy blogger, that was my website. That's why my website is still Being Mrs. Jones. That's my website, BeingMrsJones.com. And then I'm on Twitter, at the same handle. Instagram, at the same handle. Facebook, my Facebook page is the same handle.
Christina: I want to say my YouTube is the same handle ... as well. I think I just kind of kept it consistent-
Erica: Makes sense.
Christina: ... so that it was the same thing all across the board.
Kenrya: Awesome. Thank you! Well, that's it for this week's episode of The Turn On. Thank you so much for joining us, Christina.
Christina: Thank you ladies for having me!
Kenrya: And thanks to everyone who's listening. We'll see y'all next week.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. We want to hear from y'all. Send recommendations for books you want us to read on show and all the questions you want us to answer related to sex and all the other stuff. You can send those to TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com. And please take a moment to review the show, five stars only please! And subscribe to us in your favorite podcast app. Then follow us on Twitter @TheTurnOnPod and Instagram @TheTurnOnPodcast, and head over to TheTurnOnPodcast.com to find links to the books that we feature, transcripts of our shows, and info on all the guests that we talk about. Bye!
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.